ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster insists fly-half Danny Cipriani has an equal chance of making his final Rugby World Cup squad despite the lingering threat of drink-driving charges.
Cipriani has been re-bailed until November, it emerged this week, removing doubts over whether the Sale No10 would be free to play in the home tournament, which starts next month.
Lancaster has taken a hard line with breaches of discipline, axing two of his best players in centre Manu Tuilagi and hooker Dylan Hartley for repeated transgressions.
But he has assured Cipriani, who was initially arrested in June but has not been charged, that he has not been marked down in the fight with George Ford and Owen Farrell for a place in the final 31-man party.
“We weren’t in control of the initial date and we certainly weren’t in control of this date,” said Lancaster.
“It’s been extended by the police so we’ll wait and see. He’s not been charged by the police. He’s here as a bona fide member of the squad and will be judged accordingly.”
Lancaster is expected to retain just two fly-halves for the World Cup, which begins on 18 September when the hosts play Fiji at Twickenham, and Bath’s Ford and Farrell of Saracens appear to be the favourites.
As many as nine players are due to be trimmed from the 45-man training squad on Friday, eight days before England play France in the first of three pre-tournament internationals.
No8s Nick Easter and Ben Morgan have boosted their prospects of making the cut, however, by demonstrating to Lancaster that they are recovering from injuries.
“Nick has made great progress on his back injury and has been involved in a unit session. He has not done all the sessions but he is in good shape,” he said of the veteran Harlequins forward.
“Ben was the other doubt but he has also been involved. He won’t be doing every session this week, but he’s in pretty good shape and should be fine to train fully next week.”
Lancaster also admitted that Fiji’s triumph in the Pacific Nations Cup this week had underlined the difficulty of England’s first World Cup fixture – and indeed a pool that also includes Australia, Wales and Uruguay.
“We have been looking closely at Fiji over that last few weeks,” he said. “There aren’t just two teams in our pool who are a threat. Now we know it will go down to the wire.”